According to Randy Ingermanson, writing a novel is like drawing a digital snowflake. That’s how he designed the snowflake writing method.
Let’s back up a second. Randy Ingermanson is a current author and former software architect. As the latter, he became fascinated by the way in which one builds a snowflake shape on a computer. The shape isn’t just drawn as is. Instead, the software architect layers simpler shapes upon themselves until they form a snowflake.
Ingermanson suggests novels work in the same way. Start simple, then add complexity until you have your novel. In his words, “you start small, then build stuff up until it looks like a story.”
How the Snowflake Method Works
Here’s a brief overview of the three phases Ingermanson describes:
Writing a novel is daunting. Writing a single sentence is easy. Therefore, according to the snowflake writing method, the writer should begin with a one-sentence summary of the story.
Here’s an example: “A cat climbs on top of a fridge and must figure out how to get down.”
Notice how our feline protagonist doesn’t have a name. That’s because Ingermanson recommends not using one. Start basic, then add details when needed.
The middle steps of the snowflake method require the author to expand upon that first sentence. It starts with a paragraph synopsis, then a detailed breakdown of the main characters, then a four-page overview of your novel, then a formal book proposal.
This might seem like a lot of work before the actual novel writing begins. It is. However, it might be worth spending extra time upfront rather than diving right in, much as we might want to. Why? In the words of Randy Ingermanson, “If the story is broken, you know it now, rather than after investing 500 hours in a rambling first draft.”
Finally, novel writing commences! Use all that you’ve developed in the first two steps to guide you throughout your process. Your snowflake work should serve as a map for your novel.
Of course, a map is just a guide on your expedition. If you see a tropical island, sail for it. Or, in other words, feel free to diverge from your snowflake outline. If you have a cool new idea while writing, explore it!
Whatever you decide, consider these last steps the final layers of your snowflake.
Is This the Right Method for You?
Now that you have an overview of the snowflake writing method, the question is simple: is this method right for you?
As Ingermanson mentions in his post, this novel-writing strategy can be a real time-saver in the long run. The snowflake method focuses your attention on the foundation of your story, then helps you build from there.
Also, the snowflake writing method makes the entire process less intimidating. Some people struggle with eight-page research papers. And a 300-page novel? Now that’s downright scary. The snowflake method takes a huge project and breaks it down into reasonable steps. For those who think, I could never finish an entire novel, this method might change your mind.
Still, no novel-writing process is perfect. For example, some writers prefer not to outline their books at all. You’ve probably heard the nicknames: pantser, gardener, no-outline people—they all mean writers who find their stories as they write them. These writers rarely use outlines. If you’re one of them, the snowflake method might not offer much benefit.
It also might not be the right fit for those who already have an established outlining process. If, for example, you’ve already written several books of your own, you’re probably not interested in altering your approach. The snowflake method seems best suited to those who’ve struggled with previous methods and are still looking for a process that suits them.
The snowflake writing method has helped many writers finally finish their novels. It might help you, too! There’s only one way to find out...